Flanagan shuffles backs to hand Johnson pivotal role

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan was never going to sign New Zealand Test half Shaun Johnson for just a one-year deal with all the weapons in the 28-year-old's arsenal.

There were reports that a one-year deal was the Sharks' offer so it would free the club up to welcome back premiership-winning No.1 Ben Barba in 2020 after he completes a 12-month stint at the Cowboys.

Johnson signed on Saturday for three years and will start training with Cronulla's squad in early January.

"I don't know where all that came from, to be honest," Flanagan told NRL.com.

"It was never going to be one year – that would be crazy from the club's perspective in terms of merchandise, marketing, members and fans.

"We didn't want a player of his class coming in for one year and then going somewhere else. If [Matt] Moylan and [Josh] Dugan do a good job at fullback we don't need a Benny Barba.

"It was all media driven – it didn't come from us. It got started probably because Ben signed a one-year deal."

After snaring the former Warriors playmaker, Flanagan is excited about where the talented Kiwi can inject himself in a more free-flowing style of Sharks play he wants to have bedded down for 2019.

"Offensively I love his flamboyance and spark. Shaun is also a running No.6 so I'm excited to see where our game can go with the ball in hand," Flanagan said.

Part of that plan is to have Moylan move from the halves to fullback with Valentine Holmes having left the club for a shot at the NFL.

"Matt is excited about it and we'll change the way we play with Matty back there."

Dugan will also be given a chance in the No.1 spot, otherwise he will be the centre pairing with new Bulldogs recruit Josh Morris.

"I'm really pleased with Josh. He's been training really well," Flanagan said.

"Duges and Moylan will be the fullbacks. But they are both coming off shoulder reconstructions so they've both got a bit of work to do.

"I've also got a young kid in Will Kennedy who has played a lot of NSW Cup so we'll see how they will go in the trials."

The Sharks have two trials inked in: against Manly on February 23 and Newcastle on March 2.

While Johnson will be the five-eighth, Flanagan wants to have his son Kyle or Chad Townsend as the starting halfback.

"Well it will be Kyle and Johnson, Chad and Johnson, so that's Chad or Kyle off the bench – something like that can happen.

"I haven't got another hooker. I don't really want to carry another hooker on the bench so I need some utility value with my 6, 7 and even 9 if I have to."

PNG international James Segeyaro filled the bench utility role mostly this year, interchanging with first-choice hooker Jayden Brailey.

Sharks halfback Kyle Flanagan.
Sharks halfback Kyle Flanagan. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

But Segeyaro has not been offered a contract for 2019 and is searching for another club.

As for goalkicking, Flanagan now has Johnson to tag-team with Townsend.

But Flanagan is leaning towards his 20-year-old son. He made his NRL debut in round 24 against the Knights in 2018 but he was the points machine behind the Sharks feeder flub Newtown Jets' run to the grand final in the Intrust Super Premiership. Flanagan kicked 72 goals at a 72% accuracy.

"Our goal kicker will be Kyle or Johnson. He [Johnson] is not overly worried about taking on the role – happy to share it around," Flanagan said.